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rob carrick

Here's a novel solution to the fee shock some investors are feeling when they open their latest account statements: Ask for more advice from your adviser.

New investment industry disclosure rules mean investors are for the first time being shown the dollar amount of fees they pay for advice and other services, as well as their personalized returns over at least the past year. Seeing fees in dollar terms is a revelation for many. "The per cent number didn't mean anything, and it sounded small," said Paulette Filion of the investment industry consulting firm Marketing Directions. "The dollar figures are much more real to them. It's the price tag, so to speak."

Ms. Filion believes clients who have seen the fees they're paying expressed in dollars will be much more engaged with their finances than they used to be, and the e-mails I'm getting from readers support this view. But some clients are focusing strictly on how much they're paying and not enough on the value they're getting in terms of advice and service. "Clients don't just have to have a standard conversation about asset allocation and what they own and what their rate of return is," Ms. Filion said. "Your fees pay for anything related to finances."

A survey of 1,000 investors conducted a while back by market research firm PMG Intelligence offers some insight into what investors want. Investing advice was clearly seen as the top priority, with 75 per cent of people describing it as very or somewhat valuable. The next two most important services were retirement income planning and general planning for retirement – roughly 70 per cent of people thought those two services were very or somewhat valuable.

Lowering taxes was the next-ranked service, following by saving money, insurance (including estate planning), budgeting, debt reduction and getting a mortgage. Be realistic in asking for these services. A financial planner paid through hourly or flat fees might discuss your debt and savings, but a fee-based investment adviser might take a pass. The more money you pour into debt reduction, the less there is to invest and generate fees and commissions.

By all means discuss the dollar and percentage amount of fees you're paying with your adviser and his or her firm (fees are shared) – these costs can be negotiable. But it can be just a productive, if not more, to ask about getting more value for your fees. "Ask for what you need," Ms. Filion said.

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